North West suspends pensions for disabled

In a move described by Minister of Social Development Zola Skweyiya as “not only
illegal, but sinful”, North West province officials have decided to suspend disability grant payments. “Public servants are servants of the people and the state. Every South African especially people who are disabled needs the support, assistance and sympathy of all public servants,” Skweyiya says.

The North West Province Department of Social Services says it has not suspended grants, but it stopped two weeks ago paying out to people who had temporary disability grants.In March the province suspended pension payments for three months in an attempt to weed out fraudulent claimants.

“There are temporary disability grants on the system for people who qualify for a grant for the period of their disability.
This is normally a period not exceeding 12 months. Grants have not been suspended,” says director for social security in the province Denver van Heerden. These temporary grants have reached their expiry date and therefore lapsed, he says.

Skweyiya says he is not aware of the suspensions. “There are two problems here. Firstly, I’ve given an order, clearly for everybody, that they have no right
whatsoever to cut any disability grants without a warning of not less than three months. “Secondly, [government officials] sit in their offices and don’t got out and see the people.”

Skweyiya says his department has lost quite a few cases on this issue. “I have given instructions at provincial and local level that [officials] are not to
contest these cases because we are on wrong ground constitutionally and legally. I have threatened them to the effect that any official who does that will suffer very serious consequences.”

Charles Pillai, regional director for the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) in Pretoria, says the social security department has clearly acted “unlawfully, unreasonably and unfairly”. “If they maintain that these are temporary grants, have they told the people that? They’ve taken people who are clearly permanently disabled and classed them as temporarily disabled.”

The LRC has a list of 790 disability grants which have been categorised as temporary grants in the North West province. Pillai tells horrific tales of people with permanent disabilities whose grants
have been suspended.

One of these is Sinah Khoza (37), who lives in Winterveld. “Sinah has a condition called kyphoscoliosis which manifests itself in a severe
curvature of the spine. This allows for very limited movement of the spine,” explains Pillai. Khoza has been receiving a permanent disability grant since 1992. She supports three children who have now stopped attending school because they have no money for food, transport or any other basic necessities.

A doctor in the province tells of the number of people lining up to see him. “I saw about 38 patients today. Most had permanent disabilities while a few were temporarily disabled,” he says. His patients include pensioners and disabled
children whose grants have also been suspended.

Clerks at the welfare payout points have given disabled people forms and told them they have to be reviewed by a doctor to see whether they are still disabled. Once a patient receives a medical certificate confirming his disability, he has to reapply for a disability grant.

An official in the social welfare department says reinstating the disability grants on their database could take two months if the process is carried out
efficiently.

Pillai doubts it. “They could take anything up to six months. Judging by their poor administrative performance, they are being overly optimistic in their estimation.” Pillai says regulation 232 of the Social Assistance Act entitles the director general to review a grant. “However, the department is required to take the circumstances of each case into consideration. They can’t just use [the Act] to
arbitrarily impose a blanket suspension of grants.”

The MEC for Social Services, Arts and Culture in the North West province, Madlenkosi Mayisela, says the department has notified people receiving temporary disability grants. “The department has advised people three months ahead of the
date of termination of the grant that the grant is going to lapse. We also requested them to go for a medical check,” he says.

Pillai says his clients have been issued confusing instructions. “When people got to the payout points, they were told to stand aside. Another official then saw them, handed them some forms and instructed them to get a doctor to fill
them in.” Some people were handed medical review forms, others were handed affidavits and
still others were given an appeal form to appeal against the suspension.

Skweyiya says this is unacceptable. “Are they aware that most of these people cannot read? They must be given sufficient warning [no less than three months], understand what is happening and it must be explained in their mother tongue,”
he says.

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